The Sanjiang metallogenic belt includes a variety of economically important carbonate-hosted Pb-Zn deposits that share some similarities with classic Mississippi Valley-type (MVT) ore deposits but are hosted within a thrust belt rather than an orogenic foreland. This study aims to clarify the origin of mineralizing fluids responsible for this style of mineralization.

Fluid inclusions trapped in ore-stage carbonate and fluorite from these deposits have salinities of ~6 to 28 wt % NaCl equiv and homogenization temperatures of 70° to 370°C that extend to much higher values than are typical of MVT deposits. The majority of ore-stage samples have fluid inclusion molar Br/Cl ratios of between seawater (1.5 × l0−3) and (2.86 ± 0.04) × 10−3, but low-salinity fluid inclusions in late calcite have lower Br/Cl of less than (0.55 ± 0.01) × 10−3. In contrast, fluid inclusion molar I/Cl ratios are uniformly greater than the seawater value of ~ 0.8 × 10−6 and extend from (2.1 ± 1.1) × 10−6 to (506 ± 12) × 10−6. This range of Br/Cl and I/Cl values is similar to what has been reported for fluid inclusions in other MVT districts and together with the fluid salinity implies the ore-forming fluids had a dominant origin from basinal brines (e.g., sedimentary formation waters) formed by the subaerial evaporation of seawater; all the fluids were influenced by addition of organic Br and I derived from the sedimentary host rocks and some fluids were locally modified by interaction with evaporites producing low Br/Cl ratios.

The fluid inclusions have 40Ar/36Ar ratios of up to 441 that are higher than the atmospheric value of 296 and typical of carbonate sedimentary rocks. The fluid inclusions have high concentrations of atmospheric 36Ar and variable 129Xe/36Ar and 84Kr/36Ar ratios that are outside the range expected from mixing air and air-saturated water. These data are likely to reflect a complex fluid history involving acquisition of atmospheric (36Ar, 84Kr,129Xe) and radiogenic (e.g., 40Ar*) noble gases trapped in sedimentary rocks and fractionation of these gases between water and hydrocarbons. The 3He/4He ratios of fluorite fluid inclusions range from a typical crustal value of 0.061 ± 0.004 to values of >0.7 Ra, indicating a minor component of mantle-derived 3He. The fluids with the highest 3He/4He also have 4He/40Ar* close to the mantle value, suggesting the 3He could have been introduced by a volumetrically minor fluid of either magmatic or deep metamorphic origin (40Ar* = radiogenic 40Ar).

The new halogen and noble gas data are consistent with a model in which regional Pb-Zn mineralization formed by mixing two modified basinal brines that were transported through independent aquifers and fluid pathways to the sites of mineralization. A low-temperature brine contained organic Br, I, and H2S, and a high-temperature metal-rich brine (>370°C) that included a volumetrically minor magmato-metamorphic component was channeled up deeply penetrating thrust structures.

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